February 25, 2014

Obama, Boehner meet one-on-one for first time in more than a year

The president and the speaker of the House talked Tuesday.

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met Tuesday one-on-one at the White House for the first time in 14 months, covering a variety of topics but reaching no apparent agreements.

The White House and Boehner's office both described the hour-long meeting as "good" and "constructive" as well as wide-ranging.

The two men discussed manufacturing, trade promotion authority, flood insurance, immigration, the president's health care law, Afghanistan, the appropriations process, California drought relief, wildfire suppression, and the highway bill, according to Boehner's office.

"They agreed that there is a lot work to do the rest of the year, and it is important to work together wherever we can find common ground," the speaker's office said.

At the White House, reporters quizzed press secretary Jay Carney about why Obama and Boehner meet so infrequently.

Carney insisted that the two men have a "solid" relationship, but that they just often disagree on policy. He said it's a" misconception" that their relationship determines whether the president can accomplish his policy goals.

But Carney also insisted that Obama talks frequently with members of Congress, including the speaker, but that he does not read out every conversation he has.

The Tuesday meeting was another very public step in the re-emergence of the Boehner the nation's capital had long known.

Throughout his congressional career, he was known as an affable negotiator, working with liberal icons like former Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., on education and other social issues.

But things changed dramatically after the 2010 election. The grassroots tea party conservatives were instrumental in electing the 87 Republican House freshmen that helped the party get a House majority and make Boehner speaker.

So while he still preached compromise, and engaged in lengthy, occasionally one on one, talks with Obama, he couldn't sell the tougher parts of any deal to the conservatives. Big revenue increases, for instance, were off the table. So were increases in the debt limit without guarantees of spending restrictions.

The ultimate showdown came last fall, when disagreements over spending resulted in a 16-day partial government shutdown. Boehner was never enthusiastic about the strategy.

Two months after the shutdown, he rebelled. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., crafted a two-year budget deal. It was classic old Boehner -- a compromise that gave no one exactly what they wanted but had enough to sell to most lawmakers.

Conservative interest groups began attacking. This time, Boehner fought back.

"They’re using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous,” he said. “Listen, if you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.”

The budget measure passed with 169 Republican and 163 Democratic votes. Conservatives were miffed, as 62 Republicans voted no. A month later, 64 opposed a more detailed spending bill, and later, 63 voted no on a farm bill that passed.

Obama will release his fiscal 2015 spending plan Tuesday, which will include $56 billion in new spending split between the Pentagon and domestic initiatives such as early childhood education, jobs training and help for manufacturing.

All would be financed by tax increases or other offsets, making them unlikely to pass Congress but still a ready tool for Democratic candidates to use in congressional elections this fall.

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